The state of Kentucky is one of the most expansive treasure troves of natural resources in the United States. The state’s wildlife and fish populations, native plants, sprawling waterways and lakes all must be protected, and game wardens play an important role in doing so.
Game wardens, also called conservation officers, are the law enforcement personnel of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Pay compensates an officer for the physical demand and sometimes-elevated stress the job entails — conservation officers carry guns and are trained in defense. They may sometimes be called on to defend groups of people or animals from criminal activity in parks and wildlife areas, and they must be prepared to use deadly force when necessary.
Conservation officers employed by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife can expect to earn between $16 and $22 hourly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median hourly wage for fish and game wardens in the United States is $25, or $52,780 annually.
The opportunities for employment as a conservation officer are many. There are more than 80 managed wildlife areas in Kentucky, all owned, leased or managed by the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. Some well-known areas include the Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Center in Brandenburg, the Ballard Wildlife Management Area near Paducah and the Lake Cumberland Wildlife Management Area in southern Kentucky.
What They Do
Conservation officers spend the majority of their days outside, regardless of weather conditions. The primary goal of the job is to protect the state’s fish and wildlife populations, make improvements where necessary and provide opportunities for safe outdoor activities for residents of the state, such as hunting, fishing, boating and trapping. Common job duties include:
- Patrolling an assigned area to prevent fish and game law violations
- Investigating damage to crops or property (caused by wildlife)
- Compiling biological data
- Searching lakes, rivers, fields and forests
- Enforcing state and federal rules and regulations as they pertain to wildlife and boating
- Investigating reported violations of boating laws
- Making improvements or providing general maintenance to wildlife habitats
- Issuing citations or tickets to people who violate wildlife and boating laws; making arrests when necessary
- Investigating accidents and drownings; sometimes performing water rescues
- Testifying at trials and hearings when needed
- Creating educational programs with the intention of teaching the public about fish, wildlife and boating laws
How to Become a Conservation Officer
An associate degree in criminal justice helps on the path to becoming a conservation officer. Law enforcement experience is typically preferred and is sometimes required. Candidates must be at least 21, have a valid driver’s license and be in great physical condition. Drug screenings and background checks are also usually mandatory for the position.